U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) this week introduced legislation aimed at expanding mental health first aid training and increasing the effectiveness of mental health care across the nation.
The Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 provides support for training programs to help the public identify, understand, and address crisis situations safely. The bill also calls for protocols for initiating timely referrals to mental health services available in local communities.
"As a country we simply must do better when it comes to increasing access to mental health services, particularly for children and young adults," said Senator Shaheen. "This bill represents an important step towards expanding access to mental health services and provides training for healthcare professionals and teachers who work with young people. We hope that programs like these will help diminish the stigma that sadly prevents too many from seeking the treatment they need. More importantly, this could play a role in preventing future tragedies like the one we saw in Newtown last month and that is a move that our entire country should be ready to rally around."
"Our bipartisan legislation takes an important first step toward strengthening our mental health system," said Senator Ayotte. "Improving mental health training for those who work in our schools, communities and hospitals will give them the tools they need to identify warning signs and help individuals get treatment."
The bill will provide grants for mental health first aid training programs for groups of individuals such as teachers, first responders, police officers, school and college administrators, veterans, and nurses. The bill also outlines a particular focus on training in rural areas. The legislation is also being cosponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Specifically, the legislation would:
Highlight available mental health resources in local communities, including Community Mental Health Centers, emergency psychiatric facilities, hospital emergency rooms and other programs offering psychiatric crisis beds;
Teach the warning signs and risk factors for schizophrenia, major clinical depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, trauma, and other common mental disorders;
Teach crisis de-escalation techniques; and
Provide trainees with a five-step action plan to help individuals in psychiatric crisis connect to professional mental health care.
The bill is endorsed by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA.